Google to launch blimps to carry wireless networks across Africa and Asia

Google has made it public knowledge for some time that it wants to connect the world to the internet. The challenge of facilitating this in remote areas has seen the search giant come up with some seemingly unorthodox methods, such as its TV white space project in South Africa. Now it’s extending the use of existing technologies to provide wireless networks across Africa and Asia with blimps.

That’s right — blimps and, according to Wired, high-altitude balloons.

The goal of these portable wireless networks is to serve the remote regions in sub-Saharan African and Southeast Asia that don’t have the wired access to the internet that city dwellers enjoy. However, these networks will also improve internet speeds in urban areas.

The plan will connect up to a billion people or more to the internet in the coming years. The catch is that the networks work in unison with Google’s Android mobile OS, indicating that this is part of a bigger plan – to not just connect the unconnected to the internet, but also take Google’s services and devices to a truly untapped market.

Although satellites could perform a similar task, an unnamed source told the Wall Street Journal, “there’s not going to be one technology that will be the silver bullet.” It appears that Google will rather apply varying technologies that will serve the same goal, dependent on whatever the region’s infrastructural challenges might be.

For Africa and Asia, going wireless makes sense because of the large and unconnected remote areas on those continents. Yet avoiding pesky cables could also be part of its plans in developed markets, such as in the US and Europe, because Google could avoid going through existing cable companies, which it has clashed with in the past over generating revenue off of their networks.

In South Africa, Google has recently formed a collaboration with mobile network 8ta to create a “Free Zone” that will allow users who use the 8ta network to connect to the internet for free. This, along with the white spaces project, shows that Google is looking for low-cost solutions to the connection problems in areas with poor infrastructure or those that could use a coverage boost.

According to Google Africa’s blog, the white spaces trials are under way in Cape Town, where ten schools are receiving wireless broadband over a white space network.

Google has been linking its web services to infrastructure for some time in the developed world, such as with Google Fibre. No matter how unorthodox the infrastructure it provides in emerging markets is, the end result will the same: more users to generate revenue using Google products, and there’s potentially another billion users on the way.

Image: Isafmedia via Wired



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